The Fourth Ally

Title The Fourth Ally: The Dutch forces in Australia in WWII.
Rating Good
Author Doug Hurst
Publisher Privately published
Year first published 2001
Series -
Binding Paperback
Content 174 pages, 74 black & white photos, 6 maps, index, bibliography.

Doug Hurst tells the story of the Dutch contribution to the war in the Pacific theater. Using the stories of former Dutch servicemen, Hurst weaves together the story of the Netherlands armed forces from the pre-war years of 1938-39 through the immediate post-war period of 1945-1948. The author attempts to cover the entire range of the Dutch contribution to the Allied cause but the emphasis is mostly on aviation and naval units. Dutch land forces were virtually non-existent in Australia because so few soldiers had been evacuated from the Netherlands East Indies (NEI). While units of the Royal Netherlands Navy are mentioned throughout the story, the Dutch squadrons within the Royal Australian Air Force are clearly the focus of Hurst's story. (The author is a former RAAF officer). Also included in the story are the sailors of the Dutch shipping company KPM (Koninklijke Paketvaart-Maatschappij) who with other Allied merchant mariners played a crucial role in the Allied victory.

The Fourth Ally is not an exhaustive study of the role of Dutch forces in the Pacific theater during World War II. The author acknowledges this, stating that he was attempting to make known the story of Dutch Australians, not to write an official campaign history. This he does capably, interspersing anecdotes and pictures from Dutch servicemen with an explanation of the larger campaigns of the war. The selection of which personal stories to include seems to be determined by who the author had met among the former Dutch servicemen. Instead of tracking down one or more servicemen from each Dutch ship or squadron and then combining their stories, the author seems to have based his book on the stories of those former servicemen he knows in Australia.

This process produced a somewhat representative story but certainly not a comprehensive treatment of the experiences of Dutch service personnel. Among the approximately twenty men who shared their wartime experiences with Hurst are marines from the light cruiser Tromp, an officer from the submarine K-15, numerous pilots and aircrew from the air service of the Netherlands East Indies Army, and several men who fought in the army or marines in the post-war struggle against the Indonesian nationalists.

There are two topics that come out in Hurst's treatment of the topic that have not appeared to my knowledge in other English-language sources that address the Dutch armed forces during World War II. The first is the difference of attitude and experience of personnel who were from the NEI as opposed to the Netherlands proper. Hurst indicates (p. 54) that men from the NEI had a different view on colonial social structures than European Dutch. NEI Dutch were also more likely to recognize that Dutch control over the islands was likely to change as a result of the war. The second is the issue of ethnicity in the Dutch armed forces (pp. 74-76). The units that escaped to Australia included Dutchmen from both Europe and the NEI, men of mixed European and Indonesian origin, and native Indonesians. Many of the Indonesian men wished to return to the islands, seeing the war as lost, and some Australian and American officials initially objected to these ethnically diverse units out of racial prejudice. The inclusion of these two issues is noteworthy and will appeal to any reader with an interest in military sociology.

One topic covered by the book that seemed to fall outside the declared scope of the book is the post-war struggle by the Dutch to reassume control over the islands. While some of the Dutch aviation units needed to regain control over the NEI were based in Australia and needed Australian logistical support, the majority of the Dutch armed forces were in the islands and under British strategic direction. The experiences of Dutch men who served in the army or marines are certainly interesting but they appear to fall outside of the time frame of the story (World War II) and the location of the story (Australia). The book would be more effective if it dispensed with the post-war chapters and instead more thoroughly covered the wartime experiences of Dutch personnel resident in Australia.

The strengths of this book are several. First, the subject is one that has yet to be covered adequately in English so this book is a useful addition to the literature. Second, the use of personal stories and pictures gives the book a flavor that is lacking in conventional military history writing. Third, the book is well illustrated with 71 black and white photographs plus six maps and four other illustrations. Fourth, the story is easy to follow and smoothly expressed, again something not always found in books on military topics.

The book also has several weaknesses. First, the book overemphasizes the role of the aviation units incorporated within the RAAF (such as 18 Squadron) and neglects some of the naval units, specifically the surface ships and submarines based at Fremantle. Second, with just a few exceptions, the author does not indicate the source of arguments about the direction of the war or statistics on forces involved. Third, the bibliography lacks many published sources that a reader can use to check the author's account or read forther on the subject. Those published sources that are included often lack a complete citation. Fourth, some minor errors relating to naval forces slipped through the editing process such as claiming that the light cruiser Tromp could steam at 40 knots (p. 16), referring to the ships of the U.S. Navy's 58th Destroyer Division as torpedo boats (p 29), referring to the anti-aircraft cruiser Heemskerck as a destroyer (p. 68), and giving the name of the Royal Navy's Eastern Fleet commander, Admiral Sir James Somerville, as Summerville (p. 122).

In summary, The Fourth Ally is an interesting, highly readable account of an aspect of World War II that has not been told before. It tells the story through the experiences of Dutch veterans who now live in Australia. Readers who seek a study comparable to the two volume series on the RAN during World War II by G. Hermon Gill (1968, reprinted 1985 by William Collins, Sydney) will need to wait for such a book to be written in English. For readers whose interest in naval history is more general, this book will be a pleasant read. Since the book is not distributed by a commercial publisher, potential readers will need to contact the author to obtain a copy. The address from the copyright declaration is: 43 Percy Crescent, Chapman, ACT 2611.

Mark C. Jones
St. Luke's School
New Canaan, Connecticut, USA

This review was published in the Australian magazine "The Navy" of January-March 2002. The webmaster was given permission by the editor of this magazine, Mr. Mark Schweikert to use it on his website.

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